In California, Kathie Kong gets ready to call the IRS every morning at 6:58 am.
When she calls at 7 a.m., the agency tells her that its call limit for the day has already been reached.
According to Business Insider, Ms. Kong, 39, a single mother of five and a healthcare worker, has yet to receive her tax refund for 2020.
Her amended return was filed in July, but she still hasn’t received the roughly $5,000 she’s due.
She has also yet to receive the advance child-tax-credit checks that the Biden administration began sending parents in July without a return.
“I pay for childcare just to go to work. It’s been hard because the money that I make is not that much and childcare is expensive,” Kong explained. Getting her tax refund and child-tax-credit money will relieve her of having to “have to worry about how I’m going to pay for childcare this month.”
In mid-December, the National Taxpayer Advocate, Erin Collins, said that 6 million original returns remain unprocessed, and 2.3 million amended returns remain unprocessed.
Those returns represent millions of Americans who are waiting for money for necessities, such as groceries and childcare.
The IRS has been underfunded for years, and its workforce has also shrunk as its workload has grown. Staffing and operations were affected by the pandemic.
2021 was “the most challenging year taxpayers and tax professionals have ever experienced,” Collins noted. Backlogs of tax refunds are more than just piles of mail: Many families rely on tax refunds as a source of basic expenses or as a financial buffer. In the meantime, these delays are taking a toll on families – and the country is heading toward another filing season that Collins said she was “deeply concerned about.”
The More Stalling, The Bigger The Burden
Michael has yet to receive nearly $20,000 from the IRS from his 2020 tax return in Texas.
Michael, 32, who requested that his last name be withheld for privacy purposes, filed an amended return in May. The IRS hasn’t contacted him about it since it was accepted on that day.
“I’ve made probably 15 calls to the IRS and about 10 calls to the tax-advocate service,” he explained. He says he’s getting a recording telling him to call again tomorrow nine out of ten times he calls the IRS.
He has also not been able to claim an advance child tax credit for his five children.
Throughout the year, he planned to use the money he would received from the refund. Due to the lack of it, his family has had to cut back on grocery purchases.
“We just started a standard list that we use when we go to the grocery store — not buying anything extra, like extra snacks that the kids might want, changing brands from diapers,” Michael explained.
Clothing shopping has been cut down too, and food preservation has been increased. About 18 more chickens were recently purchased, he said, which would earn them about $30 a month in eggs.
Research from the JPMorgan Chase Institute found that about half of the families with Chase checking accounts in 2015, 2016 or 2017 received a tax refund that was more than what they already had in their accounts, and their spending tripled in the week following the deposit.
Lives at Stake
For Mark Abriam, waiting on a refund is affecting his schoolwork and personal life.
Abrham, 23, is a part-time college student in California pursuing a career in medicine. Right now, he works as a valet and is financially independent. In May, he filed an amended return but has yet to receive about $2,200 he is owed.
“The refund definitely makes a big difference,” he added, noting that his school and internet bills would be paid more easily by the refund.
“I have to take more time away from school, and I can’t do as much as I would be wanting to in terms of school and even my personal life, taking care of my mental health and whatnot and emotional well-being,” Abriam continued.
“It definitely makes a big impact on those.”
Fears About the Future
Andrea Grant has been “scrambling to try to stay afloat.”
Despite filing an amended return in April and supplementing it with additional paperwork in May, Grant, a 38-year-old woman in Wyoming who works as a lunch lady, is still waiting on nearly $9,000 from her amended return. This is in addition to the advance tax credit checks her daughter and granddaughter are to receive.
“I just wish that people would understand that there are people out there like me who struggle, who are single parents, and that depend on their tax returns to pay their bills and to stay afloat,” Grant added.
A few days later, she said she had trouble coming up with the funds to keep her home and pay her bills. Every month, she said, she calls the IRS. Once, she waited six hours to speak with someone.
There were just under 15,000 IRS employees handling 240 million calls in the first half of 2021.
In response to our request for comment, the IRS pointed Insider to statements expressing the frustration of Chuck Rettig, its commissioner.
Michael said he relied on the government to “properly maintain the IRS with the appropriate number of employees.” He said he had not encountered such an issue in 10 years. Michael said he is upset with the situation.
“I can’t believe it’s taking this long,” he said. “It’s going to be a year in May.”
Healthcare worker Kong said it was stressful not knowing what was happening. “At least send me a letter or something,” She suggested.
“Here we are, 2021 tax-return season,” Grant said. “It’s pretty scary thinking that I might not get this one either.”